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Daniel Orozco Orientation Essays About Life

“Inspired . . . acidly comic . . . virtuosic.” —Ted Weesner, The Boston Globe

“‘Temporary Stories,' the eighth entry in Daniel Orozco's debut collection, Orientation (Faber and Faber), is a gem and a killer. Not since Henry James's ‘In the Cage' has a writer so perfectly captured the anxieties of interacting with the public for pay. Somehow, Orozco manages to convey James's psychological acuity with one-tenth of his clauses, mingling it with Steven Millhauser's sense of lunatic joy.” —Eugenia Williamson, The Boston Phoenix

“Orozco's long-anticipated collection, Orientation and Other Stories, holds a cracked Barthelme-meets-Kafka-esque mirror to this twenty-first-century American life.” —Megan O'Grady, Vogue

“[Orozco's] cracked characters grip like Krazy Glue.” —Lisa Shea, Elle

“These nine darkly funny, profoundly compassionate stories take as their subject the loneliness particular to contemporary culture . . . ‘You can't know anybody, not really, not in the brief overlaps of flimsy acquaintance, nor in the tenuous and fleeting opportunities for connection that we are afforded,' thinks a man about to be shot for the $60 in his wallet. But the real genius here is the subtle accumulation of evidence to the contrary--the insistence that even in the office cubicle, or between the lines of the police blotter, human contact is sought after and made.” —More magazine

“The moment you begin this incomparable debut, you'll … More…

“Inspired . . . acidly comic . . . virtuosic.” —Ted Weesner, The Boston Globe

“‘Temporary Stories,' the eighth entry in Daniel Orozco's debut collection, Orientation (Faber and Faber), is a gem and a killer. Not since Henry James's ‘In the Cage' has a writer so perfectly captured the anxieties of interacting with the public for pay. Somehow, Orozco manages to convey James's psychological acuity with one-tenth of his clauses, mingling it with Steven Millhauser's sense of lunatic joy.” —Eugenia Williamson, The Boston Phoenix

“Orozco's long-anticipated collection, Orientation and Other Stories, holds a cracked Barthelme-meets-Kafka-esque mirror to this twenty-first-century American life.” —Megan O'Grady, Vogue

“[Orozco's] cracked characters grip like Krazy Glue.” —Lisa Shea, Elle

“These nine darkly funny, profoundly compassionate stories take as their subject the loneliness particular to contemporary culture . . . ‘You can't know anybody, not really, not in the brief overlaps of flimsy acquaintance, nor in the tenuous and fleeting opportunities for connection that we are afforded,' thinks a man about to be shot for the $60 in his wallet. But the real genius here is the subtle accumulation of evidence to the contrary--the insistence that even in the office cubicle, or between the lines of the police blotter, human contact is sought after and made.” —More magazine

“The moment you begin this incomparable debut, you'll discover why Daniel Orozco's fans have been shouting his praises for years. In these wildly original stories, single details reveal whole human lives; the impersonal dissolves seamlessly into the personal; the geological transforms into the psychological; and the short story itself breaks open to reveal previously unimagined possibility. This may be Orozco's first collection, but he's nothing short of a master.” —Julie Orringer, author of The Invisible Bridge and How to Breathe Underwater

Orientation is a wonderful collection of stories. ‘Somoza's Dream' alone is worth the price of the ticket. But that's not fair, because the same could be said of ‘Officers Weep,' ‘Shakers,' and every single story in this stunning piece of literary art.” —David Means, author of The Spot

Orientation is a seriously good book--beautifully written, rigorous, funny, brokenhearted, smart, and without a hint of pretense. Orozco has achieved that rare thing, his own prose rhythm, and the truth of it is a pleasure to the ear.” —Adam Haslett, author of Union Atlantic

“I became a fan of Daniel Orozco when I first read the story ‘Orientation' back in the 1990s. I've been waiting eagerly for this collection ever since, and I'm so grateful to have it in my hands at last. Orozco is a vital American writer, and this book is cause for celebration.” —Dan Chaon, author of Await Your Reply

“At a time when trivial tales are often expanded and diluted into book-length narratives, Daniel Orozco's Orientation brings hope for the return of serious short-form storytelling. The stories in this collection make one marvel at the bigness of their creator's mind--each of them has the depth and scope of a novel. Orozco has both the relentlessness and the compassion of a truly great writer.” —Yiyun Li, author of The Vagrants

“This book brims with big, deadly surprises and sharp, hallucinatory images. Orozco can do anything: first, second, third person; he can explode moments into whole stories, and dash through lifetimes in a paragraph. Orientation contains nine unsettling, boundary-crossing, and exquisitely-fashioned stories--and I won't be surprised when it becomes a classic.” —Anthony Doerr, author of The Shell Collector and Memory Wall

Less…

Idaho-based writer Daniel Orozco‘s first book, Orientation and Other Stories (Faber and Faber, 162 pages, $23), journeys to so many different places—from life among the perpetual painters of the Golden Gate Bridge, to Paraguay, where the deposed president of a Latin-American country lives in sumptuous exile, to white-collar and blue-collar American workplaces in Washington, California, and elsewhere—that it’s hard to believe it’s less than two hundred pages long. The years of care Orozco has put into this book—which was more than fifteen years in the making—are evident in every honed sentence.

You can tell Orozco was having fun, challenging himself to try every possible narrative technique—first-person, second-person, third-person, perspectives that are limited to one character and some that are omniscient (including one that ventures briefly into the perspective of a pack of dogs), stories composed of several distinct episodes, and one comprised of entries from a police officer’s log that build into a hilarious love story.

One story (“Only Connect”) hands off the perspective like a baton passed between relay runners among three people involved in a random street shooting. Another (“Shakers”) follows the trajectory of an earthquake in California from the moment when rodents and snakes feel the earliest waves to the cataclysms it causes in people’s lives across the area. But even if you’re not the sort of reader who cares how the thing is put together—you’re just looking for a good story—Orientation delivers. Orozco is relentlessly entertaining, and as absurd as some of the scenarios he comes up with are, his characters are always human and moving.

The unforgettable title story takes the reader on a hysterical, surreal journey through the contemporary workplace as an unnamed employee explains the layout, office rules, and peculiarities of all the other employees to a new hire:

“This is our kitchenette. And this, this is our Mr. Coffee. We have a coffee pool into which we each pay two dollars a week for coffee, filters, sugar, and Coffee-mate. If you prefer Cremora or half-and-half to Coffee-mate, there is a special pool for three dollars a week. If you prefer Sweet’N Low to sugar, there is a special pool for two-fifty a week. We do not do decaf. You are allowed to join the coffee pool of your choice, but you are not allowed to touch the Mr. Coffee.”

Over the last decade, this kind of office humor has fueled a number of books and movies—from the movie “Office Space” to Joshua Ferris’s advertising agency satire Then We Came to the End to the British and American versions of the TV series “The Office.” But Orozco did it first—”Orientation” appeared in Best American Short Stories in 1995—and his touches of magic realism set his story apart.

In the office of “Orientation,” there is an employee who occasionally goes into a trance, looks into her bleeding left palm, and tells people how they or their loved ones are going to die. The dead wife of an employee haunts the office, leaving messages in the appointment book. One employee is the serial killer known as the Carpet Cutter (when he gets caught, all are supposed to “act surprised. Say that he seemed like a nice person, a bit of a loner, perhaps, but always quiet and polite”), and the cheery, penguin-obsessed Gwendolyn Stitch: “Because her door is always open, she hides and cries in a stall in the women’s room.”

Equally funny and insightful is “Temporary Stories,” which consists of three episodes from the life of Clarissa Snow, super temp, who so excels at each short job assignment that the temp agency gives her its “most coveted emblems of appreciation: the Exceptional Performance Pin and the assurance of permanent temporary employment.” On one assignment, she is to type and edit a secret report, and is told not to socialize with the other employees. But the other employees are so relentlessly kind, inviting her to office parties and social events that when Clarissa discovers the key to the out-of-order report she’s been assembling, she’s shattered: “In two months, the twelfth floor would become a records storage facility, and everyone in the Claims Unit would be out of a job.”

“Hunger Tales,” comprised of four distinct mini-stories about different people in fraught moments of hunger showcases the best that Orozco can do—although each section in some way makes fun of the characters, each character is also portrayed with great empathy, from the single woman who furtively visits the grocery store late at night to purchase a package of cookies for a binge, to the perfectly depicted plight of a massively obese, housebound man, who is always in danger of falling, necessitating humiliating rescue by an emergency crew, to a husband who expresses his grief for the wife that he’s just buried by sitting down in the kitchen with his grown son and eating every scrap of food in the house.

One quality that unites these disparate stories is the loneliness of their characters. In “Orientation,” the omniscient office guide explains the unrequited crushes that a series of employees have on others who do not return their affection. The character John LaFountaine, who occasionally uses the women’s restroom, is typical: “John LaFountaine is harmless, his forays into the forbidden territory of the women’s room simply a benign thrill, a faint blip on the dull flat line of his life.”

In “I Run Every Day,” a warehouse employee decides to serve as the counter-example to all the unhealthy behaviors the others engage in, and he goes on daily, solitary jogs. When a coworker develops a crush on him, he shirks her as long as he can, then retaliates in a brutal manner. In “The Bridge,” the Golden Gate Bridge painting crew develop camaraderie through commiserating over all the lonely souls they’ve seen plunging to their deaths. In “Temporary Stories,” Clarissa Snow enjoys the anonymity and lack of personal involvement with others that being a temp allows her. “Orientation” has no stories of families, of parents and children, of husbands and wives—it’s a book about the plight of the modern individual who is more tethered to his meaningless employment than to any human being.

In his acknowledgments, Daniel Orozco writes, “This book has been a long time coming and a lot of people helped…Thanks for waiting.” I have been looking forward to a book by Orozco since I first read the story “Orientation” sixteen years ago. It was worth the wait. Orozco brings new life to the story form in each of these nine surprising, witty, and thoughtful stories.

Daniel Orozco will kick off his book tour in Moscow, Idaho with a reading from his pickup truck in front of BookPeople on Main Street on June 10 (7 p.m.). He’ll read in Portland on June 23 at Powell’s Books on Hawthorne (7:30 p.m.).

2011-06-06

Jenny Shank